Debate Club hosted a Freeholders Open Forum on Tuesday, Oct. 10 in the Grand Conference Center to encourage students to engage in a dialogue across representatives of two teams.
Professor Glenn M. Ricketts moderated the debate. Approximately 30 people were in attendance, including students and faculty members. Many were in appearance to listen and observe with an open ear for anything controversial to be said.
What used to be a place for discussion, open debate and free thought has turned into what some call a “safe space.” The debate for hot-button topics and open speech at universities, has become controversial in the eyes of those who wish to draw a line in the sand. Where is this line drawn?
“I wasn’t disappointed, but I guess I was underwhelmed by the outcome,” said first-year student Francis Benedict Rubia. Rubia was not quiet when voicing his opinions about North Korea, or free speech. “I think people should be able to speak their minds, no matter what. Violence is never the answer. I think the answer to bad speech is more speech.” After giving his political views on the 2016 Presidential Election and his dislike for political scandals taking the headlines, Rubia spoke to me about why it is important to have these political conversations on campus. “I feel like there’s a lot of people like me who have opinions and they formulate
around it,” Francis commented. “To open a platform like this is incredibly important, especially at colleges.” As a first-year student, this event was the first one Rubia attended at college.
The debate was broken down into three separate periods of discussion, followed by a question session for students in the audience. The first topic for debate was Barack Obama’s executive order for DACA. Some audience members wore hats that said “Make America Great Again,” an almost impossible accessory to have without noticing. With cordial debate and questions about immigration and citizenship opportunities, the majority ruled for keeping DACA, the minority ruled for removing DACA, and one individual abstained.
Cindy Aldana, the president of Debate Club, was very pleased with the order and discussion shown during the debate. “I didn’t think there were any disruptions from any side. I think it was a fluent discussion and it was beneficial because we ended up coming up with a benevolent conclusion,” said Aldana.
There would be two more topics before the event was concluded, the next being the foreign policy issue with North Korea. Some individuals critiqued President Donald Trump for his use of Twitter in handling diplomatic matters, showing how the current approach could lead to something bigger. The vote was divided evenly by the end. Half of the students believed in a complete diplomatic approach, while the other half believed in a more aggressive approach, with some abstaining votes.
What should people be allowed to say on campus? How can we draw the line between free speech and hate speech? What is hate speech? The debate quickly rose in tension as more voices began to work the parameters of what is and what is not allowed under the Constitution. Even in leading up to this debate, Aldana spoke about how the reference of hateful symbols on the poster for the event was “triggering” to some. “Our posters promoting the event had a lot of symbols that were eye-catching, but also very offensive,” Aldana explained. “I did receive some feedback saying it was a little triggering, or too provocative, but it came to a positive conclusion that these discussions are worth having.” Discussion took place about hate speech, with many students claiming, “hate speech is free speech”.
Professor Ricketts brought up a point about free speech on campuses, and how private institutions such as Fordham University are not bound to any amendment regarding individual rights. As more students voiced their opinions, roars of applause took place for at least five seconds at some points; however, the discussions never took violent turns, as the students respected the opinions of others and kept the debate on track.
The final voting came down at the end. Only one student in the room of 30 people believed there should be a line between free speech and hate speech. The forum ruled in majority for the support of total open speech at universities. “Diversity also includes diversity of thought, and includes being challenged by both sides,” Aldana commented. “For personal and intellectual growth, it is important to have those discussions for people who don’t always agree with you.” Aldana also added how the majority of the people in Debate Club were conservative thinkers, but how that is more of an asset for discussion as opposed to a liability.
Overall, there was an organized and balanced approach of speakers and opinions. Do more students want these discussions to take place at RVCC? The Debate Club has future events in mind, such as a small classroom event one week after the Governor's election between Phil Murphy and Kim Guadagno. The Debate Club is also holding tables for voter registration until Oct. 17.
While free speech has remained an untouched issue at some campuses, RVCC has shown through cordial debate that we encourage students to speak their minds and grow their intellect.
Edited by Zachary Nickl